National Freedom of Information Coalition
Protecting Your Right to Open Government

Drone stories, secrecy, and public accountability

Opinion from Lawfare Blog:

Both the NYT Becker-Shane “Kill List” story and the Klaidman book excerpt have implications for the pending ACLU FOIA suit in CADC, which seeks CIA records on CIA drone strikes.  (It also has implications for the broader ACLU FOIA case in SDNY, but I set those aside here.)  The story and the excerpt are based on interviews with dozens of current and former Obama advisors.  They contain fine-grained details about the CIA’s involvement in drone strikes, internal USG processes and deliberations concerning the CIA strikes, internal USG criticisms and defenses of the CIA strikes, and the consequences of the CIA strikes.

At the same time that many officials are talking to Becker and Shane and Klaidman about the CIA drone strikes in the hope that the journalists will report what they say, the USG maintains that the CIA can neither confirm nor deny that it has responsive records about its involvement in drone strikes.  The USG’s position is that such a Glomar response is appropriate because there has been no official acknowledgment of CIA involvement in drone strikes, and “whether or not the CIA was involved in drone strike operations . . . is a classified fact.”  (Note that some of the dozens of officials who spoke to Becker and Shane and Klaidman talked about this classified fact and thus probably violated the law.  I continue to be surprised, obviously naively so, that some officials leak classified information practically openly while the government is prosecuting other officials for violating classified information disclosure rules.)